Microsoft Surface Book 2 review: Beneath the Surface

Trying to slot the Surface Book 2 into a specific category of devices is not easy. Microsoft’s laptop is a hybrid device that seeks to be different things to different people. Then again, in this day and age, when the definition of a computer also seems to change depending on who you ask, this shape-shifting device is perhaps a representation of the times.

Surface Book 2

  • Screen size: 13.5/15 inches
  • Processor: Intel Core i5/i7
  • RAM: 8/16GB
  • Storage: 256/512GB/1TB SSD
  • Graphics: Intel HD 620, Nvidia Geforce GTX 1050/1060

So, what is it?

First, a quick overview. Microsoft’s Surface portfolio also consists of the Surface Pro, a powerful Intel-powered portable running Windows that gets a kickstand and a keyboard accessory, and the Surface laptop, an uber-sleek little thing that is essentially a conventional ultrabook. The Book 2 is a hybrid of sorts, built like a solid laptop with a detachable screen that can function as a tablet, or provide the full power of a discrete video card when attached to the keyboard base and used like a laptop. The two parts are connected by an extension Microsoft calls the Fulcrum hinge, and its shape is part of the reason for the Book moniker.

Microsoft Surface Book 2 review: Beneath the Surface

The design of the Book 2 is top-notch. The whole thing is solid metal, and very well put together. This means the 13.5-inch version we tested does feel substantial in the hand or in a backpack (it has a 15-inch option as well), but this is an acceptable trade-off for the build quality. The power button and volume rocker — it is part tablet after all — are on the top of the device when it is connected as a laptop, and the keyboard is compact, with no numberpad on offer here. Said keyboard is also a pleasure to type on, with satisfying key travel and no flex.

Around the sides of the device are two full-size USB ports, an SD card reader, a USB C port, as well as the proprietary Surface Connector for charging. The connector is magnetic and latches on easily, and the power brick has a USB port to simultaneously charge a secondary device. The power connector also detaches easily if you happen to trip over the cable, keeping the laptop safe. There is no Thunderbolt 3 on offer, however. For the buyer for whom build quality is paramount, the Surface Book 2 pulls no punches in this department.

How does it run?

The Book 2 underlines why Microsoft chose to get into hardware. Right from signing in seamlessly with face recognition by Windows Hello — which worked really well except when there was an intense backlight on one occasion — to gliding around Windows with gestures on the precision trackpad, everything feels comfortable and natural. There is no added bloat to figure out or get rid of and the focus is on productivity.

Microsoft Surface Book 2 review: Beneath the Surface

Press a dedicated button on the keyboard and the screen makes a small click, indicating it is ready to be removed. It can then be used as a stand-alone touchscreen, or turned and connected back to the base, facing the other way, with the base now serving as a stand for the screen in viewing mode. Those investing in a Surface Pen would also prefer to use it in this orientation. The screen also works with Microsoft’s Surface Dial, allowing for greater creative control in applications that support it.

In tablet mode, the device relies on its on-board Intel graphics chip, but the Surface base has a dedicated Nvidia video card within (except on the base variant), to boost performance while in laptop mode. Our review device came with an Intel Core i7-8650U, 16 GB RAM, and an Nvidia GTX 1050 with a 512 GB SSD for storage. The Book 2 is also available in other configurations, going up to 1 TB SSD storage. The 15-inch version gets a GTX 1060 graphics chip. While every model of the Surface Book 2, except the base variant without discrete graphics, gets a fan in the base, we never really got it to kick in, except when running the odd game. In other use cases, the laptop is completely silent, which is impressive. This design did not impact performance noticeably either, as the Book 2 blasted through pretty much all the tasks we used it for, while staying quiet. We did experience the base warm up slightly near the hinge on occasion, but not enough to feel uncomfortable even when placed on a lap. While the 13.5-inch Surface can do some gaming, particularly popular online offerings like PUBG and Fortnite, those looking to also squeeze in some AAA games at high settings will be better served by shelling out extra for the 15-incher with the GTX 1060. The screen is good and the front-firing speakers nestled on the screen’s edges push out enough sound without much distortion, which worked out fine for us.

Microsoft Surface Book 2 review: Beneath the Surface

Battery life on the Book 2 is also great, with it seeing us through a productive work day without complaint. Pushing the laptop does cause battery life to take a serious hit, but leaving it on recommended mode with suggested display brightness worked out to over eight hours of battery life for us most of the time. Charging takes a little over two hours while working on the laptop, and USB C charging is a no-go for most regular phone chargers.

Who is it for?

The Book 2 is all about versatility. It has the premium build, solid specs and adaptability to multiple working styles, whether you are a writer, artist or designer, and an occasional gamer. This comes at a price too, with the model we reviewed costing around ₹2.2 lakh, with the top-end 15-inch GTX 1060 variant coming just shy of ₹3 lakh. For most people who are on a budget, this is hard to recommend, as there are far cheaper options that will do all this and more; but for those that want the best of Microsoft’s vision for Windows, there is something special about the Surface Book 2.

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